Darren Fletcher Image copyright LDRS
Image caption The airport said it was working with a range of agencies to find alternatives for the rough sleepers

Up to 200 rough sleepers are reportedly using Heathrow Airport as a refuge during the coronavirus lockdown.

It comes despite councils being told to find accommodation for homeless people, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.

Airport bosses did not comment on the numbers involved, but said they were working with agencies to find alternatives for people.

One, Paul Atherton, said he had been staying at Terminal Five for two weeks.

The 52-year-old usually beds down in Westminster, but was forced to move after the amenities he relied on closed.

On 27 March, the government told councils to house rough sleepers within the week.

Mr Atherton, a wheelchair user with chronic fatigue syndrome, said the airport was a safer place to be if his condition worsens.

“Where else do we go? That’s the reality, we go to central London there is nothing open,” the qualified photographer and film producer explained.

“McDonald’s, all public lavatories are shut… I use gyms to get showered, all the gyms are closed.”

Image copyright LDRS
Image caption Paul Atherton has been sleeping rough at Heathrow airport for the past two weeks

A spokesman for Heathrow said the airport’s Travel Care Team was assisting in re-housing people.

“It is working in partnership with external outreach organisations, local authorities and government to relocate homeless people already at the airport, only when they are able to offer safe, alternative accommodation,” he explained.

Outreach workers are also patrolling airport to engage with and help the homeless.

But Mr Atherton said there had been “complete chaos” in securing hotel rooms despite the travel care team working with charity Thames Reach.

Thames Reach is also working with councils and the Greater London Authority to get the rough sleepers into single room accommodation, but said the numbers of people involved has made it a “complex task”.

A volunteer who helps the homeless in Hillingdon, home to Heathrow, said the airport was going “above and beyond” to help rough sleepers.

A Hillingdon council spokesperson said: “We have offered accommodation to all of the rough sleepers in other parts of the borough who we are in contact with.”

According to the Mayor of London’s office, more than 600 people have been given rooms and more than 1,000 are available working with hotel partners.

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, said councils in England have been given £3.2m to help rough sleepers.

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